A life in the day of M.M.

This morning was just wonderful. Spring provided the perfect awakening, courtesy of birds arguing noisily on the cedar branch in front of our bedroom window. P.F had offered himself the luxury of a “lie-in” until 6.30 and would go to work by car instead of taking the bus, giving us time for a leisurely breakfast with the boys. We waved Bigfoot off to the lycée and sneaked upstairs to wake Little My, who pretended to be grumpy but was obviously delighted to be woken up by a grinning parental posse.

As P.F left the house, he waved happily at the open window in a spontaneous Prince Charming moment and yelled, “Au revoir, Princesse!” I looked suspiciously behind me, half expecting to find Elle Macpherson pouting over my shoulder in one of her designer silk nighties. Nope, “Princesse” was apparently me – complete with my very unprincess-like Mr Men P.J.s, garish purple bed socks and lurid orange and red dressing gown. I was gobstruck by this touching sign of unconditional love – as far as I could see, all I needed was curlers in my hair and a fag hanging out of the corner of my mouth to qualify as Dame Edna Everage’s look-alike.

Dame Edna

Dame Edna. A real princess. (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

As the car left, Little My charged into my bedroom wearing her Hawaiian costume for carnival this afternoon. We giggled as I gave her a crash course in dancing the Hula. Rugby-boy kissed me goodbye and sauntered off to the bus stop. I looked out of the window at the improving weather and the tulips opening in the garden, and heaved a happy sigh. The beginning of my day had been a smooth, rolling carpet of excellence. Life was perfect.

Suspiciously so. I furrowed my brow. Something fishy was going on – my days never usually start like that. The usual morning in our household is somewhat animated, and generally goes as follows:

1) Get out of bed just after P.F. runs out of the door at 6.45 and gets the bus by the skin of his teeth.  2) Observe Rugby-boy as he looks for his shoes and discovers that he has “forgotten” that he needs a cheque for the canteen. 3) Deal with a grumpy, half-awake Bigfoot who can’t find his favourite jeans, generally because he kicked them under the bed in true teenager style the night before. 4) Discover that the cat has thrown up in the staircase and that the dishwasher still hasn’t learned to fill and empty itself overnight. 5) Wake up a grouchy Little My who is muttering below her quilt, resolutely anchored to the mattress. 6) Reassure offspring that the remains of the two-day-old baguette really are edible if toasted and disguised with generous slatherings of Nutella.

I therefore immediately suspected that this morning’s euphoria was doomed to be short-lived. My intuition was correct: the positive train of thought that had set out at 6.30 courtesy of Rapture Railways was rudely drawn to an emergency halt at Reality Central two hours later by a terse call from P.F. He was nine kilometers away, but he might as well have been in a snow drift in Alaska. Albal, our aluminium foil-coloured people carrier, had suffered from acute indigestion on the motorway, and had gone into a mechanical coma just as she got to the motorway exit. Oh, the irony of it all: my steely stead had bitten the dust less than twenty-four hours after the death of the Iron Lady in London.

A photo of Sébastien Loeb at the 2005 Wales Ra...

Albal seems to think that Monsieur Mécano is Sabastien Loeb  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Albal was rapidly towed off to her favourite massage parlour garage. I immediately smelled a rat; as I have already described in a previous post, I suspect Albal of having a serious crush on the garage mechanic. Monsieur Mécano is not your average French mechanic featuring builder’s bum and a beer gut on either side of his anatomy; he’s young and fit (in every sense of the word), and wears a snazzy red and white Citroën outfit that would be more at home on a Formula One race track than on the windy forecourt of a provençal village garage. Albal has apparently succumbed to his charm, and is constantly blowing fuses as an excuse to get him to manhandle her headlamps. Whilst he tickles her inner sanctum with his outsized spanner, P.F. and I get to play gooseberry and foot the bill.

So I’ve dusted off Helga, my faithful green VW, and put her back in service until Monsieur Mécano has diagnosed the cause of Albal’s suffering. Affaire à suivre……..

Post Scriptum

Monsieur Mécano has shaken his head and announced that Albal is in seriously bad shape.  She has bust her timing belt – so much for staying in trim, Miss Albal.

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P.M.S, or how to become a Potential Murder Suspect.

Being a girl is not easy. That’s what I explained to Little My this morning, as she blinked though the tears and asked me why she is suddenly swinging between crying and getting angry all the time for no reason. I held my daughter in my arms and tried to break the news as gently as I could: Herr Hormone and his henchmen had taken control of her emotional control panel, rewired it and taken over the management of all behavioural procedures in a subversive, pre-pubescent putsch.

English: Behemoth , roller coaster at Canada's...

Fasten your seatbelts: welcome to the hormonal roller-coaster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you know the difference between female hormones and a fairground ride? The answer is that there is no difference at all: they both make you loop the loop and climb to vertiginous heights of exhilaration before plunging into the depths of doom and gloom, leaving you with nausea and a headache.

Men are blissfully ignorant of how it feels to wake up craving chocolate cake and hating the world with the combined malevolence of all three witches in Macbeth. When your Significant Other Half makes the mistake of asking for a matching pair of socks, your eyes pop out of your head, your mouth opens, and out tumbles your outrage at being taken for the family skivvy, closely followed by the age-old comment that he’s a big boy now, that you are not his mother and he can sort his own flaming socks out. You then inform him that he can start his quest for independence by pouring his own coffee, then immediately feel guilty, ask for a cuddle and bawl into his armpit as you plead for chocolate-covered doughnuts and back rubs. Welcome to the hormonal roller-coaster that the medical world coyly refers to as PMS.

all aboaaarrrdd the pms express

Necessary PMS medication stored in adequate pill box (Photo credit: McBeth)

I would love men to get a turn at being a woman. Just for a couple of cycles. Boys, even without being subjected to the multiple “joys” of pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding such as being kicked in the bladder all night, crapping a watermelon and having breasts like twin udders, it’d be a real eye-opener for you. Afterwards, you would maybe hesitate to come up with that inter-generational male classic of attributing everything we say that you don’t happen to like to our hormones. For example, when we blow a gasket because you have “invested” the equivalent of a week’s food supply in the purchase of a plant for the garden “because it was cheap”, it cannot be brushed off using your very unscientific “theory of menstruality”. This implies that we would have been thrilled to bits and kissed you fore and aft for your great initiative at any other moment in our cycle. No, guys;  it really does mean that we are angry and we don’t agree. Period. (Sorry for the tasteless pun. I couldn’t resist it.)

Yes, I’m sure you would enjoy being a girl for a month. You could discover the harsh reality of living with boobs: blancmange-like parasites with minds of their own that inflate and deflate in tempo with Herr Hormone’s whims. They start an irreversible migration south just when we girls can enjoy having them as a feminine asset rather than a refuelling pod or airbag for our offspring (further information about boobs can be obtained from a previous post entitled “Nesting and Migration in the lesser spotted boob“).

English: An assortment of spanner wrenches and...

Possible contents of an OB-Gyn’s tool  kit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

Then there’s the necessary, sine qua non experience of the check-up at what my favourite author Kathy Lette aptly describes as « the cervix station ». Go ahead, guys, test it out. You will discover that there is nothing quite so unnerving as a complete stranger brightly enquiring what you what you do for a living as he peers hopefully into your depths like Indiana Jones checking out a dank, bottomless cave on his quest for the holy grail.

That’s why I have always found myself a female Ob-Gyn. At least, I have done since an unfortunate first experience as a young woman (a long time ago, as you no doubt suspect). I went through the Yellow Pages and hunted down the oldest French christian name in the list, convinced that pre-retired specialists would be totally blasé about seeing half-naked women.  I took an appointment with the presumably ancient and wrinkly Emile, and sailed confidently into the surgery to find an eager, young and square-jawed Grey’s Anatomy-style doctor who had obviously just graduated from medical school. Lesson learned: never judge a book by it’s cover.

I will leave you with this helpful spoof information film to help men deal with PMS.  I apologise to my parents for my choice of subject – I can’t help it. It’s no doubt because of my hormones…..

Colour me natural.

The most recent Weekly Photo Challenge is about colour. Without wanting to sound like I’m bragging, I have heaps of photos of colour. My favourites are those depicting the fabulous hues provided by mother nature.

I have therefore decided to introduce you to Bernard the hermit crab, who P.F and I bumped into on a romantic wander along the rocky coast in St Aygulf, France.  He has gorgeous beady eyes and vivid orange antennae, and the blue spots on his abdomen make him the sexiest crustacean on the beach. A real festival of colour provided courtesy of Mother Nature.

Bernard the hermit crab.

Bernard the hermit crab.

Into the Jaws of Administromia.

As promised, I continue the saga of my quest through the impenetrable depths of French Administromia for a pretty pink driving licence. As my experience two days ago was full of trials and tribulations and (above all) rich in writing possibilities, I will be writing it up in manageable chunks. Here is the first…. 

 Tuesday was the big day for the driving licence showdown. I gathered together the driving licence forms and the mug shots and slid them into my briefcase with a huge pile of photocopies. I had frantically copied practically every document in my possession bar my supermarket receipts and the Easter egg wrappings, due to a well-founded fear of the French powers that be. They have an unhealthy obsession with what they call “justificatifs“: they can ask for documentary proof of anything from your home address to your bra size three years ago, depending on which way the wind is blowing and what they have had for breakfast. If you don’t have it with you, you are sent to paperwork jail without passing go in their real-life Monopoly game, and you have to start all over again.

In any case, whether you are desperately battering on the door for political asylum with determined gunmen hot on your tail or requesting a simple change of address on your car papers, you will invariably be met by an indifferent civil servant shrugging his Gallic shoulders as he informs you that he needs a copy of your phone bill before he can do anything. I have come to the conclusion that even if there is just one telephone bill for every member of the French population, there must be the paperwork equivalent of the Black Forest lurking in the depths of every French administrative building. I sincerely hope that they never get flooded – the employees will end up like museum pieces from Pompeii and Herculaneum, but encased in papier mâché instead of volcanic ash.

Petrified body at Pompei

“Queen Cerfa realised the importance of the paper shredder just minutes before the flooding water signed her demise in the records department of the Prefecture”. (Photo credit: Natasha Lloyd)

I hauled the huge pile into the car and set off for Queen Cerfa’s evil palace; our local equivalent of the tower of Babel. After successfully shoe-horning the car into a tiny parking space in the underground car park, I walked up to the huge gates, where a chubby little boy dressed in pair of jeans and a well-worn, hooded Spiderman top appeared out of thin air and placed himself between me and the gate in what I can only presume was a Superhero stance. Arms neatly crossed across his plump belly and feet planted well apart, he stared defiantly at me with dark, malevolent eyes set beneath furrowed eyebrows. I opened my mouth to tell my aspiring superhero that his shoelaces were undone, but I didn’t have time. He lifted an arm towards me, and folded his two middle fingers down to create a llama-head shape with his hand. Thrusting it towards my face, he proceeded to force air through his pursed lips to make a “pshhhhh” sound, but only managed to generously shower my lower half in saliva droplets before legging it across the square to his mother. I brushed myself off glumly – I had obviously been given the role of Doctor Octopus rather than Gwen Stacy. The rest of the day did not bode well.

I lifted my eyes to see a policeman who asked me if he could check my handbag. I smiled sweetly and opened my bag to reveal my personal collection of tissues, post-its, lollipop wrappers and supermarket receipts. He wisely decided against foraging, and hastily waved me through before anything escaped from my bag and bit him.

In the inner sanctum of the administrative beast, two pulsating snakes of muttering people twisted towards the door as they waited in line for the two reception desks. My queue was being dealt with by a pasty-faced lady with flaccid cheeks and loud pink lipstick, loosely-permed greying hair drooping half-heartedly over her glasses. This offbeat French reincarnation of the British Bulldog was unceremoniously perched on a wheelie chair behind the counter. She irreverently shoved a form towards the woman in front of me and barked  “Come back tomorrow!”. The woman blinked, and left. It was my turn.

Photo0231

Cross at your peril….

Or so I thought. Bulldog glared at me, and didn’t call me over the taped line on the floor.  Keeping eye contact, she slowly and deliberately put her hand in her pocket and pulled out a black object. As the screams of an exhausted child echoed around the hall and the queue grew in length, she languorously examined her phone, peering sadistically over the top of it from time to time to be sure I had understood that she, and she alone, had my destiny in her hands. At this point a man sporting an official badge appeared and beckoned to me, succulently pulling the plug on her power trip. Flashing a victorious smile at Bulldog, I stepped up to the counter and explained what I had come for. A huge grin spread across his face. “Ahaaaaa!” His blue eyes sparkled mischievously as he flicked through my papers. I cringed – he had picked up on my accent. It escapes when I’m stressed out and tries to transform my voice, making me sound like Jane Birkin on a bad day.

Bulldog’s sidekick was none other than Attila the Pun, and he was thrilled by his discovery.  “Soooo, wee-euh wanteuh a nay-ceuh driveeng permee for ze biouteefool Joanna, heing?” he shouted, evidently proud of his linguistic party piece. I was furious to realise that I had blushed to the roots for the first time in light years. It was Bulldog’s turn to produce a sardonic smirk.

Yoo weel tekk zis teekeet to ze countère O, and yoo weel wett. Goude biyeuh, ze biouteefool Joanna”. I stomped off, sat down in an empty seat, and glared at my teekeet. Here it is, crumpled and soaked with sweat: my administromia open-sesame. Everyone was clutching one, and their heads snapped up like expectant punters at the betting shop every time the buzzer signalled a change in the stakes.

My grimy open-sesame. Note date and time, and a kind mention of how many people there are in the queue in front of you.

My grimy open-sesame. Note date and time, and a kind mention of how many people are in the queue in front of you. Note also that if you wish to kill yourself through sheer desperation,  they even mention that the ticket contains a dose of free Phenol.

My ticket informed me that my number was number 55, and the number on the board was 22. So at least the ticket machine could count. It was half past ten. Even if they dealt with one person every two minutes, I had over an hour to wait. So I did what I enjoy most: people watching.

To be continued….

Thank you!

The last time I won a competition was when I  painted my house in primary school. I suspect the jury were shocked by my stark depiction of the window of the prison cell where I did my homework- we lived in an old brick police station.  I was thrilled with my prize: a book that I read from cover to cover, again and again. However, since that unique childhood moment, I have generally excelled in the more unusual lucky stakes. A good example of this would be back in 1999, when the company car my boss had lent me was one of the “lucky” five elected to be burnt to cinders overnight by a budding arsonist.

So when I clicked on the link on an email from the Expats Blog yesterday evening, eager to read the winning entries for their writing contest, I was dumbstruck to see my own name staring back at me from the screen. My family practically had to scrape me off the ceiling, I jumped so high.

I had read my way through a fair number of the 80 entries, and had discovered fascinating, quirky and informative articles written by expats all over the world that all deserved to be picked. Congratulations to Annie Onursan, whose original approach to describing attractions in Bodrum was a prize winner too. Check out the entries here: you have a gold mine of fabulous blogs all around the world. Why don’t you sign up your blog on the site, too?

So thank you for the honour, Expats Blog. Thanks also for the generous prize, which will be put to good use for my passion: reading and writing. Last but most definitely not least, thanks to those who popped by and commented on my entry, which can be found here. I am still pinching myself and expecting to wake up…..

A picnic with Italiaman and the Persian Princess.

Yesterday we got up and discovered that the sun had come out. We had already planned our day. M.M’s family have little patience with ritual eating when the sun is shining. There is nothing more frustrating for me than being holed up inside in front of a roast dinner whilst the sun screams at us to come out and play through the window. So whilst the French population ceremoniously slid garlic cloves into entire flocks of New Zealand lamb and popped them in the oven across the nation, we threw a picnic into the car, picked up two friends from the bus station and hit the road for our favourite playground: the Lac du Salagou.

The day was perfect: blue sky, gently lapping water, happy kids, and fun and interesting company. Our crowd would have appeared strange to anyone passing by: Italian, Persian, French and English picnickers sitting on the red rock, all happily chomping their way through roast chicken, baguette, eggs, crudités, cheese and crisps that all taste so much better in the open air.

The Lac du Salagou.

The Lac du Salagou.

Give me fresh air, nature, sunshine, good food and good company, and I am in my element. Our guests had been brave enough to return after a first encounter with M.M’s culinary efforts over a month ago, when I had taken the colossal risk of cooking an osso bucco for an Italian. The gastronomic gods were smiling at me that day – both guests tucked in with gusto, and Italiaman informed me that his mama had never cooked it for him before. They have been welcomed with open arms ever since.

Persian Princess is beautiful, bubbly and enthusiastic. She patiently answered all the questions I fired at her about life in Iran. I took photos of her with Candide Canon, and noted that however I chose to take the photo, she was stunning. She has fabulous eyelashes – they are so long that they could double up as windscreen wipers. It struck me that attempting to hide a woman’s beauty with veils and scarves does nothing more than accentuate the beauty of what remains visible.

I had noticed that Italiaman was tightly ensconced in a huge grey scarf, and took the opportunity to ask him to explain what the symptoms of the dreaded cervicale were. The term “cervicale” is used by Italians to describe an ailment that only seems to afflict them, whilst the rest of the world has never heard of it, let alone suffered from it. I was introduced to this notion by Our Adventure in Croatia and Englishman in Italy, and the translator in me is frustrated and intrigued to see that no official translation exists for this illness. Despite relentlessly trawling the net, I have failed to find a translation anywhere. Italiaman explained that the merest draught can reduce an Italian to pulp if his or her neck is not sufficiently well covered. The pain goes from the back of the head down to the base of the neck, irradiating out into the shoulders. I asked him why noone else gets it anywhere else in the world, and he shrugged. We decided that Italians are genetically different to the rest of the world.

Rabbit football. The Italian players have been visciously attacked by a "colpo d'aria".

Rabbit football. The Italian players have been viciously attacked by a “colpo d’aria” – literally, a “hit of air”.

Next, Italiaman pulled a bag of Easter chocolate out of his bag. Once the children had dilapidated the bag, we decided to reenact a France-Italy football match with the remaining Easter bunnies and a chocolate egg. Of course, the two Italian players were blown over sideways by a colpo d’aria within minutes of the match starting, and had to be stretchered off to treat their cervicale.

The afternoon was spent in Pezenas, a favourite haunt of mine where my favourite French playwright, Molière, spent a lot of his time. Here are a few pics of our day – I hope you enjoy them.